Sunday, October 28, 2012

GOTV in Aliquippa: Walking with Walker

Tough times in Western PA’s Aliquippa

By Carl Davidson

I door-knocked on the streets of Aliquippa for getting out the vote yesterday, Saturday Oct 27. My walking partner was our new mayor, Rev. Dwan Walker.

People complain about discouragement and analyze every which way, but it looks different down here on the ground.

We talked almost entirely with the African American working class and their youngsters. I have never seen such determination, steadfastness and vision among a group of voters. They are very realistic about Obama, but even more about the GOP and Romney. They know exactly what to do, and they are well aware that it's only the beginning, with far heavier battles ahead.

I wish I could say the same of some of my other friends and people I know. Let’s ‘get ‘er done,’ comrades and friends, then take it from there.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Debates, the ‘Yellow Peril,’ and Tibet

Tibetans celebrating emancipation of serfs.

By Carl Davidson

I get turned off when the Presidential ‘Debates' hit on the topic of China. Some worthwhile points  may be made about trade relations, but I’m informed enough to know there’s more than one side to that story. The US has done more than its share of ‘dumping’ and other unequal and unfair economic dealings with the world far more and far longer than China.

What really worries me, however, is the lurking and old ‘Yellow Peril’ chauvinism seeking into the working class. It’s mainly a diversion to mask real problems with government policy at home. It’s not China’s fault, for instance, that the U.S. lacks a decent industrial policy.

But harsh anti-China views also emerge in left and progressive circles, often around the question of Tibet. It’s a complicated issue in some way, and in other ways, not complicated at all, at leas on a few things. Following are some items from a discussion on Facebook:

CarlD: Folks, Tibet is part of China. Whether you consider that true or false, right or wrong, anything else is a non-starter.

Same for the other 50 or so minority nationalities within its borders. Even the Dalai Lama holds to regional autonomy, not separation or independence.

Within that context, there is a just battle vs Han chauvinism, and gains can be made on it. But given China's relatively recent history, where the imperialist powers of the West sought to divide it up and carve out their own privileged sections, the Brits and French in Shanghai, the Brits in Hong Kong and elsewhere, the Germans with their chunk, and so on--there is simply no way China will tolerate even the slightest suggestion of separation.

The Opium Wars are a too bitter memory, one often forgotten here, but not in China.

Al-Quaeda is making an effort among to Uighurs and and other Muslim nationalities in China's far West, and China rightly moves to smash them. To their credit, they have also punished Han settlers for anti-Muslim pogroms in the area.

China, because of its history of being both an Empire AND subject to colonialism itself, never accepted the Comintern's approach to self-determination. They won't even let the Vatican have the decisive say on who gets to be a Chinese Catholic bishop. It holds to regional autonomy internally, and relatively strict non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

I think they would be wise to make a deal with this Dalai Lama, and there are some currents in the leadership who seem to think so as well. But simple demanding 'Free Tibet' will only put you in a camp with many half-hidden and unsavory allies--and I don't mean the Tibetans themselves.

Jay: Some years ago I had some experience with the "Free Tibet" people in my area, and in answer to the question "where else is that coming from," at that time it was two-fold. One camp consisted of countercultural Tibetan Buddhism adherents and supporters of the Dalai Lama, and the other camp was composed of right-wing anti-Communists. These two camps seemed to get along relatively easily. Now, "Free Tibet" may be more racist in nature, since I haven't been in contact with any of these folks in a while, I don't know.

I've also been to Tibet, and as a result, I must be one of Carl's "non-starters." There is no question but that the Tibetans are an ethnically, linguistically, and culturally distinct people. Tibet is not part of China.

However, it may be politically impossible at this point in history to make Tibet independent from China, which is a problem faced by a number of ethnically-distinct or indigenous populations, such as the Hawaiians.

CarlD: I agree that Tibetans are a distinct nationality--in every way but one: politically. In that respect, they have been 'part of China' going back a very long time. And given their strategic position in the Himalayas, their only access to the outside world is through China or India, with a degree of dependence either way. Each for their own reasons, the Nazis, the Brits, the Indians and the CIA have all tried to dislodge them from China to one degree or another, to no avail. Genuine regional autonomy within China, included respect for Tibetan Buddhism's efforts to maintain itself, is the only practical and reasonable way to go, IMHO.

Casey: The Tibetans disagree with your view of their nationality as part of China, Carl. Seems to me it's up to them, not you. But the position you outline, regional autonomy within China with respect for cultural identity, is HHDL and the government in exile's, position. No one is saying "Free Tibet" now except young Tibetan activists. The objection to the destruction of Tibetan cultural identity comes from respect for Tibetan culture and identity, Roxanne. It's not about race. I don't know where you find hatred in this issue. Can you identify a source? I don't see any in the Friends of Tibet, and HHDL has consistently preached and practice forgiveness. As does the leading Tibetan in Arizona, Garchen Rinpoche, who was a political prisoner for 20 years, still crippled from being tortured in prison. Both of you are quick to point out and critique the same issues as they exist in in capitalist countries while defending them in China. Perhaps it is Marxist romanticism. I can't see any other reason.

CarlD: Casey, I've seen human thigh bones of prisoners in Tibet's feudal prisons and torture chambers made into flutes by the monks of the old theocracy. The old Tibet was no Shangri-la for the Tibetans. It's connection with China goes back to the 7th Century, until the Brits and Indians broke it away temporarily. With the victory of the Chinese revolution, the Chinese reasserted control, and assisted Tibetan serfs in 'standing up.' Many crimes were committed by the Han vs the Tibetans, especially during the 'cultural revolution,' when Red Guards were smashing everything Buddhist or Confucian all across China, including Tibet. Whether a new and more just Tibet emerges remains to be seen. I think it can, and as a student of Zen myself, I certainly hope so. But I also think it will remain 'part of China.'

This is only a small opening to a long discussion. Feel free to offer your own views…

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pondering Strategy: The 4th Option

By Carl Davidson

Gregory Wilpert is an intellectual of the left now teaching political science at Brooklyn College, after some time spent in Venezuela. He recently wrote a long interesting piece on Z-Net about our electoral system, mentioning Bill Fletcher and myself in passing. He was perplexed as to finding a way forward, and spelled out these options:

In short, we could call these three positions about electoral politics, non-participation (or boycott), lesser evil voting (with or without Democratic party takeover), and third party voting.

Each of these three positions makes important points that are convincing and difficult to refute.

How can one counter the main argument of lesser-evil voting, that we have a moral obligation to prevent the worst from happening to the most oppressed? On the other hand, if that lesser evil is also involved in atrocities, as is all too often the case with the foreign policy of Democratic presidents, then wouldn’t lesser-evil voting perpetuate evil?

But doesn’t the solution of voting for a third party seems equally hopeless, since the third party candidate might just take votes from the marginally better candidate and enable the election of the even worse candidate? There seems to be no easy solution to this debate. One possible compromise solution has been to urge people to vote for the lesser evil in state where the races is close, but to vote for third party candidates in races where progressives are unlikely to make a difference in the outcome (a position that very many prominent U.S. progressives advocated in 2004 and in 2000).

Also, given that each side has convincing arguments, this helps explain why the progressive movement is so weak in the U.S.: the diversity and depth of conviction of attitudes towards electoral politics makes unity within the left nearly impossible.

What this strategy debate points to is precisely the undemocratic nature of the U.S. political system. This is the kind of debate you would expect to see in countries with profoundly dysfunctional democracies.

If the U.S. had a more democratic system, there would be a general consensus among progressives to participate in the democratic process. The reason you do not see this kind of debate in the democracies of Western Europe or of Latin America (at least not since the 1970’s in Western Europe and since the 1990’s in Latin America) is that these countries, by and large, have far more democratic political systems than the U.S. does.

I thought this was too restricted, and that there was a fourth option, and wrote this reply:

Wilpert does a fair job of summarizing the system, and I have no quarrel with his suggestions for reforms in the electoral system.

But I think there in a 4th option--the one I hold to. That is to build a 'party within a party' among Democratic voters at the base, much as PDA does, but not with the illusion that we are going to 'move the Democrats to the left.' I think Wilpert is right that this isn't very realistic Rather, the approach should be to build our strength in that context, along all the fault lines in the clusters and coalitions of forces under the Dem umbrella, until the whole thing implodes and shatters. The aim is to get rid of it, not reform it--but in a way that helps the left more than the right.

The precedent is what happened to the antebellum Whig party.

Then forces on the outside, our forces on the former 'inside,' and new emerging forces, can come together to make a new 'first' party.

Again, the precedent is the GOP, spurred by the Radical Republicans and base group tied to the First International, under Lincoln,

Of course capitalism today is not quite the same as in the crisis of the 1860s. Slavery will be replaced by finance capital, austerity and war as the organizing focus.

Others may have better ideas. If so, I'm all ears.

Feel free to post your two cents on the matter…

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Beaver County and the ‘Cracker’ Debate

Potential site for major new ‘cracker’ plant near Monaca in Beaver County, PA

By Carl Davidson

Our county was was hit hard and early by globalization and the export of jobs. Our towns were largely formed around mills, and when the mills were closed in the 1980s, the towns were stressed to the extreme. Many workers moved away or retired, and those remaining in the towns themselves were largely poor and Black with few options.

Now with the new natural gas boom creating by dubious and dangerous deep underground ‘fracking’ explosions, Shell Oil wants to build a new 'ethylene cracker’ plant that turns natural gas into plastics. Fewer than 1000 people would work in the new $1.2 billion facility, but 10,000 people would be hired over five years to build it, and perhaps another 7000 more for new plastic manufacturing plants draw to be created alongside it.

For the county, it means two things. First, a complete turnaround for employment and new small business and new orders for the tube mill still running. Second, since hundreds of new ‘fracking’ gas wells would be needed to feed the ‘cracker,’ there is serious danger to the county’s water supply and many other health and environmental issues.

So we have a big ongoing debate. Are you for or against the ‘cracker.’ Are you opposed to fracking? Or do you just want to tax and regulate it? And what about clean and green energy?

Natural beauty of our townships soon to be ‘fracked.’

The issue keeps coming up in various forums, including our Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Committee page on Facebook. I had posted some pictures to it showing the natural beauty of our area, which led some to say it could all be ruined by the ‘cracker’. Here’s my brief reply:

'Beauty' looks one way out in the townships. But in the deindustrialized mill towns along the rivers, you see something else--the impact of joblessness is not so pretty. You have to view these things strategically, meaning the whole, not just the part, the future, not just the present, and who are the key engines of change as your allies, if not the unemployed and underemployed. In order to unite the many to defeat the few, you have to find ways to unite people who disagree on many things--no easy task, but it's demanded of us.

Query to me: Why haven't jobs come to Beaver County? The skilled left the area for better jobs and now the perfect storm. I do not know the percentages of skilled or college grads or even people who only have a high school diploma or just a GED in Beaver County.

CarlD: The lack of opportunity means we already have exported a good number of our youth, or at least those with options and prospects. We are demographically now one of the oldest counties, if not the oldest, even though we still have many distressed young people among us, under-employed and unemployed. We have the means to create skills--BCCC, Robert Morris, Geneva and Penn State Beaver--and we have done so.

But I know younger folks in my own family, educated, who have moved away for lack of new industry. For those remaining, the fracking jobs, the trucker jobs related to it and the construction jobs related to the 'cracker' are viewed by them as a Godsend, or potentially so.

Our task is first, to defend clean water, and second figure out a positive way to deal with this developing industry. I doubt that it's going to be stopped, but it can be modified and a share of the profits from it can be diverted toward green renewables in the longer run. The devil is in the details, of course, but I don't think we do well simply to avoid those details with an abolitionist stance not likely to get very far and likely to separate us from real friends. Even people working at building a 'cracker' have an interest in clean water…

Don’t look for this debate to be resolved easily. The opinion and suggestion box is now open! Feel free to comment.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2012

'Lazy' People, Voting Rights and Republicans Caught with Their Pants Down

Our march on Harrisburg, PA to protest voter suppression.

By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On

Sometimes Republicans just can't help themselves. Put a little heat on them, and they blurt out the truth, showing what they're really thinking.

The latest case in point: The retrograde Pennsylvania 'Voter ID' law was rejected today, Oct. 2, at least in part, by a state judge, Robert Simpson, allowing people to vote normally at least on this Nov. 6. The decision was a victory for labor, the NAACP, retiree groups and all who care about defending civil rights and liberties.

The main author of the bill, State Rep Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), however, chimed in with this comment:

"Justice Simpson's final decision is out of bounds with the rule of law, constitutional checks and balances for the individual branches of state government, and most importantly, the will of the people. Rather than making a ruling based on the constitution and the law, this judicial activist decision is skewed in favor of the lazy who refuse to exercise the necessary work ethic to meet the commonsense requirements to obtain an acceptable photo ID."

Yes, you heard that right. This guy thinks those objecting to this bill are 'the lazy who refuse to exercise the necessary work ethic.'  And all of us here in Western PA not fresh out of the pumpkin patch know exactly who he thinks he's talking about. When Gov. Romney went over the top in a recent closed session with his upper crust friends talking about a 47% of the population who wouldn't 'take responsibility' for their lives, I thought things had pretty much hit bottom in the racist dog whistle department. Little did I know!

Metcalfe has done us all a favor in self-exposing the racist mindset behind this GOP voter suppression effort, and revealing exactly why they thought that, if implemented, it could tip the state to Romney. Now they've been monkey-wrenched, at least for the time being.

But here's an interesting thought. I'm not a constitutional lawyer, even though I've studied it some. Where does it or our state voting laws suggest, anywhere, that lazy people or people with a hampered work ethic, don't have the same right to vote as energetic workaholics? 

The wealthy have best be careful here. As the saying goes, most people work for their money, but a few people are able to let their money work for them. They can laze about, enjoying the good life of the idle rich. There's a slippery slope here they may want to avoid for the future.

Carl Davidson is a member of Steelworker Associates. He lives in Western Pennsylvania and writes for, the website of the 12 CD Progressive Democrats of America.

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